VISUAL ART It’s not immediately apparent walking around Catharine Clark Gallery’s four white, well-manicured rooms, but the space’s three current shows by two white men and one Asian woman, from diverse locales share some attributes. Visually, they go by the name Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6, and Blue No. 2; and conceptually, by the terms artifice and appropriation. Together they make for pleasant artificial coloring and sweetening for the eye and brain. Yet as conscious consumers know, that shit leaves traces of guilt, and worse, carcinogens.
Yes, the metaphor is slight and out of context, but so is the entirety of the work at hand. This is intentional, as both solo exhibits Charles Gute’s "The Corrections" and John Slepian’s "the phenomenology of painting" and the walk-in-closet-sized-room containing Stephanie Syjuco’s "Beg/Borrow/Steal" function via recontextualization.
For Slepian, whose exhibit sits at the back of the gallery as well as a semi-hidden curtained room in the front, this involves pulling from the dustbins of modernism to reframe staid paintings as video projections that pop, puff, and pivot. One such piece draws from Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color series and puts those famous static colored squares into action to irritating sounds not unlike those found in Fisher-Price toys. This lazy analogy is actually quite apt since the entirety of "the phenomenology of painting" looks and sounds cheap. The projections, while pretty, look like 20-second looped .mpegs you might expect to find in a Introduction to Flash tutorial. And the sounds, well, the young woman working the gallery’s front desk said they weren’t driving her sane. These qualities are surely intentional, as Slepian used the words "silly" and "playful" more than a few times to describe his work during a walk-through discussion on April 10. But the cool tech component doesn’t wow beyond the room’s exit.
In the adjacent room, despite being tucked awkwardly along the gallery’s hallway, Stephanie Syjuco’s works do work. Presented as an introduction, as opposed to a proper solo exhibition (Catharine Clark Gallery promises that early next year), the small survey "Beg/Borrow/Steal" packs a polemical punch. These pieces use their cheapness sweatshop-aesthetic woven fabrics, rasterized jpgs, blocked and blobbed-out text and pics for inventive political provocation.
Compared to Slepian’s position of playfulness, Syjuco’s work is disturbingly heavy, physically and conceptually. One of the room’s safety hazards the other being the "black market goods" buried in black rock and lined precariously along a shelf is a thick stack of newspapers titled Towards a New Theory of Color Reading (El Dia, Houston, Forward Times, Manila Headline). It illustrates its point through nonillustration: blocking out and color-coding all the content in Houston’s local ethnic newspapers, Syjuco cogently politicizes ad, editorial, and pictorial space via swaths of gaudy red, yellow, and blue.
Charles Gute’s "The Corrections" resides near the gallery’s entrance, and somewhere between Slepian and Syjuco on the heavy-to-playful scale. An art publication proofreader by day and artist by night, Gute wondered what would happen if he were to blur these two roles. The result: copyediting marks derived from, but in lieu of, an original art text context. In other words, circles and squiggles as art in and of themselves.
On paper, Gute’s pieces look swell. The cute and clean abstract shapes might make little to no sense, but they at least appear perceptive. In concept, they balloon questions surface regarding what is and isn’t art, especially when extracted from within an art industry context, as alienated labor is made visible much to the embarrassment of the original authorial content. The proofs, like those blocks found on Syjuco’s newspapers, politicize the source material, making those sweet, colored marks difficult to ignore. *
CHARLES GUTE: "THE CORRECTIONS"
JOHN SLEPIAN: "THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF COLOR PAINTING"
STEPHANIE SYJUCO: "BEG/BORROW/STEAL"
Through May 15, free
Catharine Clark Gallery
150 Minna, SF